Forward Rodney Southam (left) is among a handful of key role players for the Kelowna Rockets as they host Bryton Sayers and the Victoria Royals Friday in Game 1 of the WHL second-round series.

Forward line depth key in playoff run

Kelowna Rockets roll four lines and depend on contributions of role players in WHL post-season

It’s little secret that the degree of success the Kelowna Rockets have this spring will depend largely on the production of top-line forwards Rourke Chartier, Leon Draisaitl, Nick Merkley and Tyson Baillie.

Still, there’s a less-heralded group of Rockets the club’s coaching staff regards as equally important when it comes to the playoff prosperity the team will ultimately enjoy.

The likes of physically-inclined forwards Tyrell Goulbourne, Rodney Southam, Chance Braid and Riley Stadel may all play statistically less glamorous roles but are no less appreciated or relied upon by their coaches and teammates.

“Throughout the regular season Rod finished his checks, knew defensively what his role was and he always sticks up for his teammates,” said Rockets’ assistant coach Kris Mallette.

“Chance, through his physicality, gave the rest of our forwards a lot more space in the first round. Riley, going back and forth from forward to defence, is a real spark plug for us, he’s got that on and off switch and will go through anything to be where he needs to be.”

And Mallette calls Goulbourne “Probably one of the quickest guys in the league who you expect to play a physical game and keep opponents off balance.”

“All those guys those guys are unsung heroes,” Mallette added. “You don’t see it too much on the paper, but in that room those guys loved by every one of their teammates.”

And not to omit anyone from the conversation, Mallette said every forward who dresses for Kelowna on a nightly basis plays a vital role and has been a key contributor to the team’s success to date.

Suffice it to say, the ability to roll four lines is a luxury not all teams have, and is a particularly good tool the Rockets hope will work in their favour in the post-season.

“(L.A. Kings) coach Darryl Sutter said if your fourth line can’t play six or seven minutes, you’re not going far in the playoffs,” said Mallette. “That’s a true testament to our team in that those guys can play eight to 10 minutes, or even 12 to 14 depending on the situation.

“We are fortunate enough to have 12 regular players plus a couple of guys sitting in the stands who can play any given night, so that’s the beauty of our team.”

The Rockets and Victoria Royals open the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs Friday night at Prospera Place. Game 2 goes Saturday in Kelowna.

Three Rockets ranked…

Centre Nick Merkley is the top-rated Rockets’ player in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings released this week.

The 17-year-old Calgary native is ranked 23rd among North American skaters, making him a potential first-round pick in this summer’s NHL entry draft.

Defenceman Dante Stephens is ranked 116th, while fellow blueliner Joe Gatenby checks in at No. 174.

The 2015 NHL entry draft will be held June 26 and 27 in Sunrise, Fla.

 

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